by Cayla Saret, MPH'17
"When thinking about going back to school [for my master's degree in public health], I thought, I love epidemiology, but I really like the communication side, too. When I discovered the Tufts [MPH – Health Communication] program I knew, 'This is just perfect. It's both worlds.'"
Lisa Paradis earned her MPH with a concentration in health communication in 2009 from Tufts University School of Medicine and currently serves as the Research Analyst for the President's Cancer Panel. She is also President-Elect of the Tufts Public Health and Professional Degree Programs (PHPD) Alumni Association.
After completing her BS in rehabilitation and human services at Boston University, Paradis focused on breast cancer prevention at the Dana Farber Institute, where she says health communication tools played an important role as she recruited trial participants. After that, she edited medical publications. All the while, she says, "I just kept coming back to public health."
Even with her experience in the field, Paradis says her classes at Tufts "helped me get a better understanding of how we do research." For her Applied Learning Experience (ALE) with the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition, she spoke with small business owners, constituents, and legislative aids to develop campaign messaging in support of legislation to enable all workers to earn paid sick time. A few years later, the coalition helped pass the law. After graduation, Paradis stayed in touch with friends from Tufts. While living in Washington, D.C., she would come to Alumni Association meetings and events when she visited Boston. She wishes she had more time on campus as a student, which was part of what drew her to run for a board position.
She will spend a year as President-Elect of the PHPD Alumni Association, learning about the position from Jennifer Towers, MS – Health Communication '13, the current President. Paradis says Towers makes the role look like a wonderful way to connect to alumni and to give back. "[Towers] was a leader at Tufts for so long, and she knows so much and so many people in the community that I can't think of a better person" to support her in the transition.
Paradis hopes to expand alumni involvement and other opportunities for interaction with current students that she greatly appreciated while she was in the program. She feels it is important to show students the many "real-world possibilities" that exist after graduation. She also wants to facilitate the expansion of the Alumni Association in order "to increase connections with the growing alumni" population, both within and beyond Boston.
Paradis "turned everything upside-down" to move to D.C. for a health communication fellowship available through the National Cancer Institute that she first learned about in class. The position "felt like a dream job," and led to a full-time role for the President's Cancer Panel. She often encourages students to apply for such fellowships, which she says can facilitate access to federal government positions.
Paradis enjoys the political aspect of her work, even though it can lead to complications – for example, the weeks-long federal government shutdown in 2013 delayed a report for months. Panel members are independent White House appointees, she explains, and they consider many factors when selecting a topic area to investigate, particularly the likelihood of a topic area to result in actionable recommendations to the President. They amplify their impact by gathering more stakeholders. For example, physicians contributed to a report on underutilization of the HPV vaccine. The Panel found that some physicians were not recommending it as compellingly or frequently as other immunizations. This discovery led to collaboration among groups including medical societies, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute to increase vaccination rates.
"What's great about the public health program," says Paradis, is that the "concrete skills" taught at Tufts allow students to thrive in any subject area. For example, she has used writing and marketing skills to strengthen the Panel's web and social media presence.
Paradis now lives in Boston, though she travels to D.C. frequently. She is excited to have more time at Tufts. She urges current students to "get all you can out of it while you're here," from classes, to the Applied Learning Experience, to contact with professionals doing interesting work. "It's all pieces of a puzzle. Not any one piece is necessarily bigger than the other. All these little parts work together."